“I am him”, how Majora’s Mask let the player be in control

Besides the mechanics employed, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask made a groundbreaking impact within the game industry. The game was able to impact the industry in how games should approach driving a narrative, along with the sort of resourcefulness and cleverness that companies can employ when creating new content out of older, already familiarized assets.

How Nintendo creates a well-driven narrative is through the game’s main mechanic with time. Since the game runs on a 72 hour cycle (or 54 real-time minutes), it is virtually impossible to do everything the game has to offer to you within one cycle, be it side quests or mini-games. So, to solve this issue, the player can choose to reset the 3-day cycle whenever they so please at the expense of their items gathered during the cycle (rupees, arrows, etc. except for important items such as masks).

This accomplishes two things. The first is that players need to be careful in choosing what they want to do within one cycle. Do you want to save the relationship with Anju and Kafei? Well, you better make sure you have enough in-game time to do so otherwise Termina will be destroyed, and all the progress made within that quest is lost. Even when the quest is completed, players still have to go back in time to further advance in other areas of the game. This sort of mindset helps to establish the player as the main character, not Link. Sure, the player plays as Link, but the choices made are all up to the person holding the controller. Whether it be going back in time, choosing to save Anju and Kafei’s relationship, or even letting Termina be destroyed: all of these choices are made solely by the player. This differentiates Majora’s Mask’s version of Link to the series’ past and future predecessors. Link’s demeanor already makes him a suitable candidate for the player to feel in control, given his silent nature and sort of “bland” personality. However, Majora’s Mask can be played in a multitude of different ways with Link choosing which adventures and quests the player so chooses to go on. In the past games, the story is very linear, making Link go on a sort of straight line when progressing through the game leading to a specific ending. In Majora’s Mask, the ending can be the world being destroyed or it being saved, but the outcome all depends on the player’s actions within the game, not Links. The line to the finish isn’t straight, but instead has loops, curves, and sometimes even gets cut and put back together in different spots, thus creating a new experience every time. To simply put, the player is the main character, not Link, and it is up to the player’s discretion in how the game should be played.

The impact that the narrative described above had on the game industry was quite powerful in how games should approach narratives where the player is in control. Today we see many games where the player is the main character and not the other way around. Instead of adopting the persona of the main character (like Joel in The Last of Us series), games are starting to make the players be responsible for the character’s persona and how they act. The best example I could think of is with V from CyberPunk. The game throws so many dialogue options and actions to the player, letting them fully customize and cater the adventure to their own liking. The main character is never the same when played by a different player, thus creating a new experience in which the player is controlling the story.

The experience leads to the second thing that Majora’s Mask had successfully conveyed within the game, which is the replayability of a game. With the different choices, loops in time, and actions the game offers, it creates a new experience each time the player chooses to start the game. Add in other players, and now each player can have a virtually unique experience when taking up the game. Not only does this help in how often the game can be played, but it also extends the game’s shelf life. Throw in the fact that Majora’s Mask had quite literally used all of its assets from its predecessor Ocarina Of Time, and it is clear to see how resourceful Nintendo was in creating new content that had a lasting shelf life thanks to the unique experiences it creates for each individual player. The adventure caters to the player’s choices and actions.

Nintendo and Eiji Aonuma proved to the industry that a solid story can indeed be accomplished with recycled assets and some clever thinking when implementing new game mechanics. It is clear to see the impact Majora’s Mask had on the game industry, and how more and more games are adopting this sort of style in which the player creates the main character instead of them already being established within a story. Letting the player have complete control in how the story should be driven creates a narrative unique to the player along with opening up the possibilities of what direction the game can be taken in.

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